‘A Hero’s Death’
There isn’t much question that ‘Dogrel’ was a significant album highlight of 2019. Furiously energetic, the Dublin band’s observational tales of their hometown and other situations made for a significant debut, leading to a lot of media attention and a tour of the US, a record that resembled a collision between the Libertines and the Pogues and that made Fontaines DC’s reputation practically overnight. At the same time, they were astute enough to realise that they probably shouldn’t attempt to replicate their first album and as tensions began to appear, the direction of their second album was decided. ‘A Hero’s Death’ seems like a very different creature to its predecessor, or is it?
It certainly begins as a more introspective and darker collection of songs, some of them written during their touring experiences. The band themselves are on record as wanting to make an album that shared as few elements of ‘Dogrel’ as possible, although the guitars, drums and vocal are instantly recognisable to anyone that heard their first release. Sounding as if they’ve gone back to the inspirations that made them form a band, ‘A Hero’s Death’ is Fontaines DC paring everything back to a minimal format, with audible references to the Cure, Joy Division and that entire school of post punk bands. It’s also a band coming to terms with their sudden popularity, a highly personalised statement of distancing themselves from the industry circus.
You may have already heard ‘I Don’t Belong’ on R6 or wherever, and it sets the tone for the first half of the album in its repetitive bleakness, a reminder that at least some of the band are appreciators of The Fall, capturing something of their mood without imitation. Grian Chatten makes for a notable vocal presence regardless of what the words are and while the rest of the band may not be playing with as much velocity as previously, they aren’t exactly holding back. Songs such as ‘Televised Mind’ and the title track are every bit as lively as anything on ‘Dogrel’, the difference being the mood of these songs, which require more than one listen to appreciate fully.
Fontaines DC make no apologies for ‘A Hero’s Death’. It’s been written and recorded to deliberately provide a contrast to ‘Dogrel’ and their disorienting experiences of life on the road have provided ample material for this. While other bands might implode in their first exposure to the music mainstream, Fontaines DC have written an album that’s a caustic rejoinder to that experience although by the time we get to 9th track ‘I Was Not Born’ it seems as if they’re back to their own selves, at least on the surface. ‘A Hero’s Death’ might alienate some of their fans but Fontaines DC are prepared to take that risk, and that’s what makes the album a worthy successor to their debut.